Sexing Up New Media: From Online Dating to Porn

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Maybe I’m coming across as over-(cyber)sexed, but there’s so much interesting stuff to talk about in relation to this topic and I have one more issue for you!

One subject I didn’t touch on in any of the other material so far is highlighted by the title of a 2009 science-fiction film starring Bruce Willis. Surrogates is an intriguing depiction of how sexuality might be (?) mediated in the near(ish) future – although as with all of these kinds of films, it’s actually a commentary on today’s digital media practices. You can watch the trailer for Surrogates here, which will give you a fairly good idea of the film’s content. What seems to be the ‘message’ here? Does the film seem to put forward a dystopian perspective? If you’ve watched the film before, do you think the filmmakers effectively critique the sexualisation and eroticisation of the (particularly female) body in contemporary culture, which they seem to be trying to do, or is voyeuristic entertainment at the very core of the film’s attempt to engage audience members? You might also like to think about this film or others you have seen (such as Gamer, another 2009 production) in relation to Module 3 on cultural representations of digital media, which we’ll return to in good time…

I need a break from me now too, and am tempted to go play some Xbox – though I won’t be going near this one… ‘Thing’ from The Addams Family was always creepy enough…

Who’s Watching Whom?: Surveillance Practices, Processes, and Problems

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A major factor that contributes to the all-pervasive culture of surveillance – this surveillance society – in which we live is a climate of fear. Indeed, we might almost call this a self-perpetuating climate of fear. Reflecting on 9/11, I asked a group of students this week whether they thought that, even though they had been born before 2001, they considered themselves to have experienced a ‘pre-9/11′ world. I was in first year university at the time of the September 11 attack and it was clear then that we were witnessing a groundbreaking moment after which nothing would be the same. There are other events also, like the Colombine High School massacre in April 1999, as well as similar tragedies in the United States and elsewhere in the world, which invariably see issues of surveillance being raised and (re)negotiated in the media. Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002) contains some fascinating sequences of bizarre news reports that exemplify the construction of a climate of fear – or even better, panic. Can you draw any parallels to Australia in this regard?

Many acts of surveillance have unquestionable value and cannot be simply shoved into a mono-dimensional vision of a dystopian world. Likewise, fear and concern can turn into polemical paranoia, and that just trivialises the issue as well. If you find examples surveillance like the RFID chip or RATs somewhat ‘freaky and creepy’ – if not downright disturbing – try to take a step back and examine what it means about digital media culture today…

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be scared, as there are arguably good reasons to be. But being analytical is important as well. And in the end, the scariest thing about all of this may just well be that we are not scared enough…

Enjoy the meLecture :)

Playful Publics: Interactivity, Immersion, and the Gamification of Society

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Below is the fourth meLecture on ‘Playful Publics: Interactivity, Immersion, and the Gamification of Society’. This is a new topic for the unit ALC201 Exploring New Media: Users, Settings, Implications, and provides a brief and broad survey of a subject that is destined to only become more central in Media Studies programs across the world…

Trust Me. I’m Batman.

(on the Nintendo)

Celebrity, Performativity, and the Age of the Selfie: Young People and Virtual Selfhood

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Here’s the third meLecture ‘episode’ addressing the topic, ‘Celebrity, Performativity, and the Age of the Selfie: Young People and Virtual Selfhood’:

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In the following supplementary video (which is just as important to watch as the first one!), I have an in depth conversation with Professor David Marshall, the Chair of New Media, Communication, and Cultural Studies at Deakin University. David’s reflections are immensely interesting and I highly recommend you take notes while watching. As David makes so many valuable observations, I don’t want or need to say much on this topic myself, but I did want to leave you with one short passage from last week’s reading by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, which is just as significant in relation to the current topic as it was for the last one:

If by authenticity one means the unmediated access to some ‘essence’ or ‘truth’ of a subject, virtual environments only make clearer the critique made by poststrucural theorists that all self-presentation is performative, that authenticity is an effect, not an essence. (Smith and Watson 2014, p. 75)

Smith and Watson turn to theorists who speak of ‘authenticity’ as ‘manufactured’ and ‘calculated’ – a form of stage management. This is not an inherently negative or problematic quality, but reinforces the crucial importance of looking upon the commonplace notion of a ‘true self’ as a stable, coherent, and singular entity with a large degree of scepticism.

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Reference

Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 70-95.

Multiple Me(s): Thinking Through My Online Self…

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(ALC201 Module 1 Exercise Example)

Popular understandings of digital identities continue to rely on relatively stable notions of the (true) ‘self’; however, postmodern themes of multiplicity and incoherence are often more useful in forming a self-impression of my digital identity(s). Indeed, postmodernists’ emphasis on human identity being underpinned by a ‘fragmented, disjointed, and discontinuous mode of experience’ (Kellner 1995, p. 233) gestures to the radical shifts between, to take one example, sending formal emails as a university lecturer one moment and self-reflexively creating (often very personal) video clips the next. My Twitter profile allows me to make this self-presentational shift even more rapidly – even in a matter of seconds. In this context, I can move from a tweet that is primarily aimed to promote myself professionally to a more ‘social’ tweet on another profile that appears to reveal more of my ‘private’ side, as in the respective examples below:

Tweets embedded from my @textualworld and @virtualtiff Twitter profiles respectively.

In terms of Kim Barbour and David Marshall’s (2012) categorisation of the different kinds of academic personae, my online activity places me further from the ‘formal’ and fixed broadcast-style self and more in the ‘comprehensive self’ category, which blurs the professional and the private across a number of platforms. This discontinuity allows a high degree of flexibility, providing a means of navigating and contributing to diverse online communities for the purposes of my disparate teaching and research areas, which span digital media innovation, the Holocaust, board game culture, and animal/human rights. However, there are potential limitations to my approach, particularly in terms of needing to find the right balance in order to maintain a following when appealing to often niche and disconnected target communities. Utilising the app JustUnfollow over the past several months has proven an immensely useful way of tracking when anyone stops following me, thus possibly allowing me to determine why this might be and, if I think something needs to change, alter my practices accordingly.

The Easel.ly infographic below symbolically represents some of the ways in which I depict myself across several online media applications:

‘Myonlinepersona’ at Easel.ly

This visual representation makes a clear distinction between those sites I am generally compelled to put forward a more ‘serious’ and ‘professional’ persona on, such as Academia.edu and LinkedIn, and those on which I construct a more ‘impersonal’ self, such as Twitter and YouTube. I have intentionally distanced myself from Facebook over the past few years, which means that it has been a somewhat isolated element of my online identity. In future years, I plan to make more frequent use of this site – as well as the major gaming community site BoardGameGeek – to further develop my research into board game culture through more intense online community engagement.

One must always bear in mind the primary reason for engaging in online forums: connectivity – or what C. Waite (2013, p. 16) identifies as an individual’s dependency on ‘virtual copresence’. Thinking critically about how one is situated within online communities is crucial to establishing an effective online presence. Attempting to balance the personal and professional, I endeavour to build what might be termed a ‘coherent incoherent’ identity. Reflecting the postmodern conception of the self outlined above, recent research has pointed to frequently updated profile pictures ‘becom[ing] a short hand for changing, up-to-the-minute performances of self’ (Hills 2010, p. 118). However, I don’t tend to change my profile picture often, rather using a consistent ‘formal’ image of myself across most platforms. Metaphorically, my profile picture might (as suggested in the infographic above) be viewed as an anchor around which I construct a multiplicity of often contradictory, if not at times ‘incoherent’, public online selves. By appearing – or ‘performing’ – as a serious professional in my profile picture, this will hopefully counter-balance any negative impression garnered by my more fluid, often self-deprecating, depictions in other forms. For instance, I self-reflexively and critically think through my presentation of self as if playing a series of characters, no matter what medium I am using.

Screenshot of meLecture 10 (2013)
Screenshot of ‘2013 meLecture 10 for Exploring New Media: Users, Settings, Implications’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq2GopuJnWo, retrieved 18 July 2014.

My use of a multiplicity of selves can be found in my fragmented appearances in previous video ‘meLectures’ (as in the image above), in which I intend to disrupt the still widely commonplace notion of a ‘true self’ with performances that are at once compellingly authentic and entirely artificial.

Addressing the notion of the ‘intercommunicative self’, Marshall writes of the ‘necessity of linking one’s own identities into some sort of pattern’ (2010, p. 42). This underlines the importance of ensuring one’s various profiles are consistent and linked when and where useful. My About.Me profile, for example, serves as a useful ‘hub’ for these links, which are also contained in some way on other media. Yet no matter how careful one is in depicting oneself online, it is crucial to acknowledge that the self is as much ‘an effect of representation’ as it is something that is ‘expressed through online practices’ (Poletti and Rak 2014, p. 4). Just as I influence perceptions of myself in the non-virtual world through my online behaviour, so too do my virtual personae impact on my own understanding of who I am.

An awareness of this issue is particularly important at a time when photographs of oneself can be uploaded to any number of sites with impunity, highlighting that one ultimately lacks control over one’s self in significant ways. For example, in one of the first seminars of ALC201 for 2014, I sat awkwardly under a table in an attempt to highlight the need to break down the traditionally conceived power relations between students and teacher. One student in the room took a photograph of me and sent it into the Twittersphere (which I only discovered once the seminar had concluded). This great example serves to highlight the point I was making in the seminar perfectly: the rise of digital media and the surveillance society that comes with it has already provided the means to disrupt conventional power relations, whether we like it or not…

Picture of Twitter
Photograph by Adam Brown, 18 July 2014. Image of retweet on https://twitter.com/textualworld.

 (956 words, not including citations and captions)

References

Barbour, K and Marshall, D 2012, ‘The academic online: constructing persona through the World Wide Web’, First Monday: Peer-reviewed Journal of the Internet, vol. 17, no. 9, 3 September, retrieved 18 July 2013, http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3969/3292#p3.

Hills, M 2009, ‘Case study: social networking and self-identity’, in Creeber, G and Martin, R (eds.), Digital Cultures: Understanding New Media, Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp. 117-21.

Kellner, D 1995, Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern, Routledge, London and New York.

Marshall, P D 2010, ‘The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media’, Celebrity Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 35-48.

Poletti, A and Rak, J 2014, ‘Introduction: digital dialogues’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 3-11.

Waite, C 2013, The Digital Evolution of an American Identity, Routledge, New York.

meLecture the First: Introducting Media Studies 2.0: Making, Sharing, Learning

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Dear students of ALC201 Exploring New Media: Users, Settings, Implications,

Sorry to any other subscribers / readers, this post is not for you – but feel free to watch too if you’re interested :)

Below you’ll find the first of the weekly ‘meLectures’, which aim to put into practice the unit’s emphasis on creativity, critical thinking, participation, collaboration, and digital production. This week’s videos are important to watch carefully, as they explain the crucial ideas that the unit is built upon, outline the resources you need to engage with, and map out some key issues for discussion throughout the week. Any feedback on the meLectures is more than welcome as we move through the unit – you don’t have to wait until the end of the trimester to evaluate things in the unit – such is the power of digital media!

And lastly, don’t worry: the meLectures won’t usually be this long – we just have a lot of stuff to cover this week…

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Even though this meLecture is much longer than it will usually be in future weeks, I still had to omit some material and wanted to spend some time here making some preliminary points on how ‘new media’ has been conceptualised. Setting aside the problematic elements of the terminology of the ‘new’ (the unit title is gone next year and ‘digital media’ will take prominence), the most important point I would make is that our interest in this unit goes beyond merely the devices or programs people make use of. To draw on the second edition of New Media: A Critical Introduction (2009, pp. 12-13), Martin Lister et al. emphasise that ‘new media’ should be seen to refer to the following categories:

  • New textual experiences
  • New ways of representing the world
  • New relationships between users and technologies
  • New formations of identity and community
  • New conceptions of the body’s relationship to technology
  • New patterns of organisation and production

One need only reflect on the immersive virtual environment of Second Life, for example, in which users explore and experience a world with its own currency (Linden Dollars) and various educational, business, shopping, and entertainment opportunities, to begin to perceive the implications of digital worlds for the construction of identity and ‘reality’. The increasing reliance on ever-present mobile devices that serve as ‘attachments’ to the physical body, allowing people to be constantly ‘plugged in’, further blur conceptual divides that seemed to be clear-cut not so long ago, such as the distinction between the human and the artificial.

These and other developments have raised fundamental questions for cyberculture scholars (and numerous science-fiction filmmakers) over the very nature of humanity. You might like to list some ‘new media’ examples of your own underneath the above categories to confirm for yourself the incredibly wide scope of what we can look at as part of ALC201. You will have considerable flexibility in the unit to create media in relation to subjects of specific interest, so brainstorming areas and issues that are particularly important to you early in the trimester would be a valuable exercise. In the spirit of Media Studies 2.0, you might even like to use the online platform bubble.us to throw together some ideas…

Go forth, live (online, a bit), and prosper! :)

Adam

Reference

Lister, M, Dovey, J, Giddings, S, Grant I and Kelly, K 2009, New Media: A Critical Introduction, 2nd edition, Routledge, London.

Welcome to ALC201 Exploring New Media: Users, Settings, Implications

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A quick welcome video for students of the Deakin University undergraduate unit ALC201 Exploring New Media: Users, Settings, Implications…

Subscribing to this blog is one way to obtain updates about the unit (if you check email often, this will be a useful strategy for you). I’ll also post some further ALC201-related reflections here throughout the weeks ahead. I recommend you subscribe to my YouTube channel itself as well (particularly if you’ve never done this before), and I’ll be very active on Twitter (both via @textualworld and @digitalzones) throughout the trimester. It would be a great idea to get into the habit of checking out the #ALC201 hashtag every now and then – hopefully, the tweets here will originate from me less and less as we move forward… And, or course, be sure to check CloudDeakin on a regular basis.

Please note that I will be posting some tweets/messages/videos that are not specifically related to ALC201 from time to time. Feel free to share useful links and engage in discussion in any forum you wish and, as noted in the video, please ensure that you behave in a considerate and ethical manner at all times – and contact me at any stage if you have any concerns.

Good luck, and as Dolph Lundgren said in a 1987 classic that was a bit of a Star Wars rip-off but nonetheless had its merits: ‘Good journey’!

Adam